Set in the fictional country of Mariposa, The Samosa Rebellion by Shanthi Sekaran tells the story of several twelve-year-old middle schoolers who attend Marble Hill Preparatory (MHP) Academy.  When Muki Krishnan spots Dragonflies—a type of spy drone—monitoring the neighborhood of Oceanview and suddenly hears people talking about moths versus butterflies, he knows strange things are afoot, so he is glad to have his best friend Fabi Calderón by his side. Fabi is smart, funny, genuine, great at soccer, and immune to what the world thinks. Unlike Tinley Schaedler and others whose families have ancestors from Mariposa, the two friends are on scholarship to attend MHP,Read More →

Fifth grader Anthony Joplin, aka Ant, is afraid of confrontation but confident in his card playing skills and kind to his friends. He is also trying to discover where and how he fits into the “tough guy” image and whether he can “be a lion,” as Jamal’s brother Taj says. Ant is further confused by girls, in particular, Shirley Heyward. How she smiles, talks, and laughs makes Ant’s skin tingle. “Ant doesn’t know what was prettier—Shirley’s smile, her brown fingers as they worked the deck, or the sound of the cards as she made a perfect shuffle” (193). Now that Ant’s older brother Aaron isRead More →

Living Ghosts and Mischievous Monsters is a collection of 32 chilling American Indian stories assembled into five chapters: Ghosts, Spirits, Witches, Monsters, and The Supernatural. Written and selected by Dan Sasuweh Jones from the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, the book is artfully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre from the Tongva tribe of Southern California. From these stories, readers will learn that the spirit world, according to Indian culture, communicates with us by signs. Reading these signs may encourage us to carefully consider our future actions. Readers will also come to understand that languages, ceremonies, and governments can differ greatly from tribe to tribe and region toRead More →

With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 having recently been commemorated, we all might wonder whether we have progressed as a nation in the last two decades. We might ask ourselves if we treat others better today than we did in the days and months after the attacks. Because today’s school age youth were not yet alive in 2001, they may wonder why September 11 carries the motto, Never Forget. They may wonder why history is so important.  Saadia Faruqi’s novel Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero will guide middle grade readers to understand these complicated questions with their layered answers. Readers will learn that historyRead More →

Although not the historical fiction giant that is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis uses Death as one of its narrators. Through her twelve-year-old protagonist Gauge, the Carpenter’s grandson, Vitalis explores the social custom of rites of passage and life after death. After his grandpapá dies, Gauge no longer has the protection he needs from Lord Mayor Vulpine who is terrorizing the village of Bouge and who blames Gauge for the death of his wife. To protect him from the Guards, who wish to arrest Gauge and set him out to sea to die because he is a VoyantRead More →

Room to Dream is Kelly Yang’s third book in her Mia Tang/Front Desk series. It shares Mia’s current experiences as a seventh grader navigating friendship challenges and boyfriend drama. Mia also returns to China in 1995 with her parents after being absent for five years. While she cherishes the time with family, Mia wonders about the changes that “progress” is making. The big chains are “swallowing up” the small mom-and-pop businesses. Having been made aware of these changes an ocean away, when Mia returns to California, she notices that ethnic shops are closing in favor of hotel and restaurant chains. When Vacation Rentals offers toRead More →

Told in three parts, The Leopard Behind the Moon is written like an oral legend. Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev sets her tale in Sesa—a faraway place amid the marula trees where a group of people live in a village with strict laws about not going out at night or opening the magical door that protects them all. However, on the three-year anniversary of his father’s death, ten-year-old Ezomo sees the leopard that killed his father and feels compelled to follow it. His foolhardiness involves two of his friends: Muja and Chimama, and the three have quite an adventure.  Ezomo discovers that although the night is dark andRead More →

Justina Ireland explores the notion of unfairness in her novel for middle grade readers, Ophie’s Ghosts.  Readers will accompany Ireland on this justice-seeking journey as she asks important questions: How do we live, survive, and thrive in a system that is unjust? How do we remain strong and unbent, willing to do the right thing, even when it puts our own comfort and lives at risk? What are we willing to put on the line in the name of justice that is denied to us? How do we grieve when the ghosts of our loss appear in the everyday suffering of those around us? AsRead More →

Nina Hamza’s debut novel, Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year is an epic read. Weaving elements of three classic middle grade books: Holes by Louis Sachar, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, Hamza shares some important perspectives with her readers. Ahmed’s father needs a liver transplant, a medical situation that precipitates the need to move from Hawaii to Minnesota. Initially, Ahmed’s dominant emotion is anger. That shifts to confusion for the twelve year old skinny brown boy with curly hair. As a Muslim of Indian descent, Ahmed struggles to find his place inRead More →